Brendan Carroll wrote that the most important orchestral works of Joseph Marx (Josef Marx) have never been recorded (liner notes of Hyperion CDA66990). Indeed, only a handful of radio broadcasts have been made in the last 70 years as I know from my own research. Michel Fleury who wrote the booklet articles for the few other commercial Marx CDs also seems to know these deplorable facts. Nevertheless, I had the feeling that there might somewhere exist recordings of Marx's orchestral works and especially of the Herbstsymphonie. I was somehow sure that if recordings did exist I would find them.
First I began to search the World Wide Web but I failed since there is almost no useful information about Marx's orchestral works in the whole Internet! Could it really be possible that none of Marx's orchestral works apart from the Romantic Piano Concerto had ever been recorded? In order to get an answer I decided to call the Austrian Radio Station ORF in Vienna. This turned out to be a good decision since the ORF (who has different state studios of which all have their own archive) indeed had recordings of a major part of Marx's orchestral and chamber works. I was overwhelmed by the list of works that was read out to me from the archive database. I ordered all recordings of every work for chamber and orchestral ensemble that the Viennese radio station had in its archive. Then I asked the key question: "Could you please check your archive for a work named Herbstsymphonie (or Herbstsinfonie / Herbst-Sinfonie / Herbst-Symphonie as it is sometimes spelled)?". I was so excited and highly expectant. Then the voice at the other end of the line said "No, I can't find anything like that". This was truly disappointing to me but at the same time I had the idea to call the ORF state studio in Marx's hometown Graz which could well have had a recording. My phone call to the ORF archive in Graz indicated that they also had no recording of the Herbstsymphonie. At least I was able to order a few other orchestral and chamber works that the Viennese archive didn't have. The other ORF studios had nothing else of interest.
However, this was the beginning of the most extensive phone call campaign that I had ever made in my life.
I called a very large number of eligible archives, universities, music societies, orchestras, musicologists, conductors, historians, discographers, lexicographers, pianists and besides many other persons who are familiar with the Austrian music scene, but I also spoke to some of Marx's living pupils and friends or to their descendants, among these the grand-daughter of the famous singer Anna Hansa (1877-1967) who has been Marx's lifetime romance and partner over five decades and to whom Marx had dedicated his Herbstsymphonie. (Marx himself never had any children and there are no other direct relatives.) Unfortunately none of them could provide a recording of the Herbstsymphonie; for the most part they had never even heard the name of this work!
I contacted the Universal Edition, the main publisher of Marx's scores. Of course they also had no recording of any of Marx's orchestral works. Now I understood that calling the ORF studios had been the very best idea that I could have had. Nonetheless I asked the Universal Edition if the score of the Herbstsymphonie has ever been loaned. They just saw a curious entry in their database and gave me the phone number of the famous German publisher Schott in Mainz who then gave me the information that the score had obviously been loaned out in 1990 but this turned out to be nothing but a wrong entry in the computer as I discovered several phone calls later - one of which was with a German classical music producer in Mombasa/Kenya!
After that I called the Austrian National Library in Vienna. Their music division had indeed two other orchestral works that even the ORF did not have - of course I ordered them. In the meantime I had been hearing the first batch of recordings from Austria and was deeply impressed: How could such great music be that unknown and totally forgotten? How could a composer who obviously was one of the most approachable composers of the 20th century be that neglected? And what is more, how could his Herbstsymphonie that is Marx's major work due to all sources to which I had access later, be the most forgotten work among his orchestral masterpieces?
Joseph Marx at his home in Vienna, Traungasse 6 (1963).
For more photos of this house please click here
I was hoping to get answers to these questions by reading all the biographies and writings about Joseph Marx that were mentioned in other books and in the Internet (which was rather problematic since his name is sometimes incorrectly spelled Josef Marx). The first book that I received was a doctoral thesis about Joseph Marx written by Dr. Andreas Holzer from Vienna University. This dissertation is the latest and by all means the most comprehensive writing about Joseph Marx. Of course it can't be compared with Andreas Liess's biography since Liess was one of Marx's friends and pupils but it is still the most extensive information source compiled by a person who was not part of Marx's circle of acquaintances as the writers of all other biographies had been.
In Dr. Holzer's thesis I eventually seemed to have found the reason why the Herbstsymphonie had disappeared from the concert programs.
The premiere was performed 5 Feb 1922 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Felix von Weingartner, as part of the "Philharmonic Concerts" series. The dress rehearsal was disturbed by a circle of saboteurs who used whistles and evidently didn't want the symphony to be successfully performed, and the same happened at the premiere. This divided the audience into three groups: those who loudly whistled in order to disturb the performance, those who were overwhelmed by the euphony of the music and cheered and applauded in order to express their enthusiasm and to drown out the troublemakers, and the rest who just tried to be able to hear the music. Visitors even reported acts of physical violence between the two factions of the audience during a tumult that lasted about fifteen minutes. Unfortunately even Marx himself didn't know exactly which circles were responsible for all that trouble as he wrote in one of his private letters.
Several articles in newspapers and music magazines described the symphony as a work that naturally had to tear the audience apart:
"A masterly thematic and polyphonic work that
sometimes makes use of Schreker techniques ..."
("Musikblätter des Anbruchs", 1923/5, p. 156)
"... an extremely large, even monstrous work
with sometimes excessive sonority and polyphony ... masterly use of
("Wiener Morgenzeitung", 7 Feb 1922)
"... an unsymphonic symphony ... A too
monstrous work of a lyricist who is wrapped up in his music
("Wiener Zeitung", 5 June 1923)
In spite of the huge attention that the work had attracted in Vienna, its Viennese premiere must be evaluated as a flop. However, there are hints showing that Felix von Weingartner seemed not to be the "right one" to conduct the work as the premiere in Graz (26 Sep 1922) conducted by Clemens Krauss gave a totally different impression of the music so that the symphony was celebrated as perhaps no other symphonic work had ever been celebrated there before. One should note that this was not only influenced by the fact that Graz is Marx's hometown since all later Viennese performances of the Herbstsymphonie conducted by Clemens Krauss were greatly successful and the scandalous premiere of 1922 seemed to have been forgotten.
One additional note: In 1927 the Herbstsymphonie was not performed completely anymore. Marx had meantime decided that the fourth movement ("Ein Herbstpoem"; original title: "Ernte und Einkehr") should be performed as an independent work. This movement is the only one of the four movements that begins after a break while the first three movements of the symphony must be performed without a break.
But why have Marx's other orchestral works also been neglected and forgotten in the following years? One can say that the Austrian music scene of the 1920s was generally divided into two factions: the tonal and the atonal music. Marx was one of the leading members of the tonal group, perhaps even the leading light of the Viennese music scene of that era as one can see from the numerous functions that he had in Vienna. Naturally there were a lot of Marx opponents among other music circles. After Marx's orchestral works had been quite frequently performed in the 1920s the interest in this kind of innovative but still tonal late romantic style began to wane. Seemingly as a reaction to this development, Marx then wrote his three famous string quartets of which the titles ("modo antico", "modo classico") tell much about his attitude towards the modernists.
As my search for a recording of the Herbstsymphonie went on I found a website where the names of all persons who had written letters to Marx are listed. This list was the reason for at least 50 additional phone calls, among which I also called Deutsche Grammophon, the most important German music archives and a couple of German discography experts. None of these could help me with locating a recording. Then I seemed to have found what I was searching for: A document of the Austrian National Library that gave short summaries of each letter written to Marx by Swiss composer and Marx pupil and friend Richard Flury. Here I found a letter in which Flury reported to Marx about the positive reactions to the performance of the symphony in his hometown in Switzerland. Was this a hint or even a proof for an existing recording in Switzerland? Couldn't it be possible that the symphony would have been performed in Switzerland in later years when recordings were frequently and usually made?
Joseph Marx - Richard Flury
I contacted several Swiss radio stations and finally the Swiss National Library that could give me the phone number of Richard Flury's son Urs Joseph Flury who also is a composing conductor and violinist. Urs Joseph Flury knew many things that I hadn't heard of so far since he had all original letters written between his father and Marx over five decades. He also had been searching for a recording of the Herbstsymphonie over a long time but at the end he had given up. Urs Joseph Flury insisted that the summary of that letter at the website of the Austrian National Library was definitely wrong. Finally he read the original letter to me, and indeed we found out that the information about the performance of the symphony refers not to the Herbstsymphonie but to a symphony composed by Flury himself. Urs Joseph Flury said that if a Swiss recording of the Herbstsymphony did exist at all he would know it.
Another important straw was a hint that I found in the Liess biography: The Herbstsymphonie had been performed in February 1925 in Germany by the well known Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra conducted by the Austrian Hermann von Schmeidel.
If you wish to see a photo of recording sessions of some of Marx's orchestral works in the above-mentioned concert hall "Stadthalle Wuppertal" that is exactly the location where the Herbstsymphonie was performed for the last time in 1925, please click here!
After I had contacted the organist and pianist Prof. Joachim Dorfmüller who is an expert on Wuppertal's music and concert history I knew what I had suspected before: The symphony hadn't been recorded when it was performed in 1925. This was confirmed by the German discographers and lexicographers who hadn't found anything about a recording of a Marx symphony in Germany.
It was then, after more than 200 phone calls and reading all the writings about Marx, that I definitely knew that I wouldn't find any recording of the Herbstsymphonie. Nevertheless, I can now claim that this work is by all accounts Marx's most striking work although most likely no living person has ever heard a second of it. The main biographer, Austrian musicologist Andreas Liess, emphasised that it is "among the most polyphonic works ever written", and he almost went into raptures when describing all the outstanding details of the score: "A late romantic symphony of incredibly orgiastic euphony and voluptuous impressionism...". These quotes are taken directly from the detailed description of the score that we can find in his biography written in 1943. These facts might be another reason why the symphony was never performed again since the late 1920s. Only a few conductors and orchestras were willing to tackle such a big challenge. An excellent performance of this work would most probably need extensive rehearsal and above all an orchestra and conductor who really have a special liking for this kind of large scale late romantic symphony. Furthermore, as far as I can say after having seen the conductor's score that runs to 281 pages, it should be performed with much sensitivity and not rushed.
"An ecstatic ocean of themes and motifs, polyphonic turnings, richness and variety." (Erik Werba)
"Why should a composer with such graphic abilities make use of a small instrumentation in order to describe the richness of the autumn? Which delightfully suggestive images of nature are being created by this gigantic orchestra! No matter whether this is indeed a symphony or a magnificent rhapsody..." (Hans von Dettelbach)
A NEW YEAR'S HYMN & MOUNTAIN HYMN
by Joseph Marx
St. Esser & B. Haydin
* * * published by Universal Edition * * *
Click here for detailed info,
music samples (MP3) and score pages
The orchestra recreation - Großes Orchester Graz has performed the
under the baton of the conductor Michel Swierczewski
in the Stefaniensaal in Graz, Austria.
* * * First performance since 80 years * * *
The author of this website attended
this rare, major musical event and made available a
full report on its enthusiastic reception in Austria
The Joseph Marx Society (founded in April 2006 by Berkant Haydin) has its own website:
The Joseph Marx Society invites all music lovers to become a member or to support the Society with a kind donation. Please contact the General Secretary, Berkant Haydin (author of this website joseph-marx.org).
www.joseph-marx.org is a private website created by Berkant Haydin.|
The purpose of this website is to provide information about the life
and works of this composer and to celebrate his magic music.
www.joseph-marx.org should not be confused with the
website of the Joseph Marx Society mentioned above.